While the point-and-shoot digital cameras most amateur photographers use may be fine for parties, vacations and other everyday moments, most fall well short of offering performance serious photographers demand. The size limitations on these tiny cameras have so far prevented them from reaching the same quality as the brick-like DSLR cameras that professionals lug around. But recently, Sigma, a Japanese maker of high-end cameras, has announced a camera it claims will bring DSLR quality to the compact realm.
Sigma bills the DP-1 as the “The camera nobody could make. Until now.” Since DSLR cameras use enormous image sensors to capture the most light for the best image quality, the company had to accommodate a large sensor in a small body that would fit in a pocket. While the camera they ended up producing may be larger than the tiniest point-and-shoots, measuring 4.5 inches long, 2.3 high and 2 deep, it’s still far smaller than the DSLRs it competes with, making it a compromise between ultimate portability and ultimate quality.
Image Courtesy of Sigma
For image capture, the DP-1 borrows the same 14.45-megapixel image sensor from the full-size Sigma SD-14. The Foveon X3 Direct Image Sensor measures a full 0.8 inches by 0.5 inches, which makes it about 12 to 7 times as large as most compact digital camera sensors. It’s also a full-color capture system, as opposed to the monochrome systems used in smaller cameras. Monochrome systems use RGB filters over monochrome sensors to capture color data in separate steps then string them together later with image processing. A full-color system, by contrast, captures all RGB data together, producing what Sigma calls “emotional image quality.”
Quite unlike a DSLR, the DP-1 does not give users the option of interchangeable lenses, so the integrated 16.6mm F4 lens serves as a jack-of-all trades. Sigma claims the wide-angle single-focus lens meets the same performance standards interchangeable lenses are held to, but offers much more compact size. It also delivers exceptionally low distortion of only -2.3 percent, meaning, in practical terms, that straight lines in subjects are kept straight. Again, while compact cameras deal with distortion on an image-processing level, the DP-1 handles it a hardware level.
Since the DP-1 is supposed to offer a balance between all-out performance and point-and-click simplicity, it offers shooting modes that cater to both crowds. Novice users can select the basic automatic mode and snap away without worry, while experts can also select programmed mode, aperture priority mode, shutter priority mode, or full manual mode to tweak and dabble with settings. And for those who value the absolute highest image quality without compression, the DP-1 can also capture images in RAW format, preserving every last pixel of captured data.
For most casual photographers, compact consumer-level cameras will no doubt remain the most practical and affordable for day-to-day photo taking. But for those who want to take their photography to the next level without bringing a full camera bag full of equipment everywhere they go, the Sigma DP-1 may have carved out a comfortable compromise. With an MSRP of $1,090 USD, it certainly leans more toward the professional side than the consumer side as far as price is concerned, but when priced out next to DSLRs, it’s hard to complain. More information on the Sigma DP-1 can be found at Sigma’s web site.